The Vampire Doll (1970)

Vampire_Doll_1
AKA The Legacy of Dracula: The Vampire Doll
AKA The Night of the Vampire
AKA Legacy of Dracula

After a six month long business trip, Kazuhiko braves a horrendous storm and travels out into the remote Japanese countryside to visit his girlfriend (fiance?), Yuko. Upon arriving at the estate he is coldly informed by Yuko’s mother that Yuko tragically died in a car accident two weeks prior. Kazuhiko is understandably shaken by this news and, in no condition to travel, is invited to spend the night. Instead of sleeping, he lies awake in disbelief, and then in confusion, as he hears sobs coming from down the hall. After a near encounter with a woman whom he swears is Yuko, Kazuhiko is convinced that his beloved is being held in the house against her will. When he spots her again later that night, he follows her out to the cemetery and finds her near her grave. She asks him to kill her, and just as she raises her arm as if to stab him…

… a disconcerting edit happens and we’re introduced to his sister, Keiko.

Vampire_Doll_2Damn it, movie, we were just getting somewhere.

Keiko is convinced something horrible has happened to her brother. Keiko’s own fiance, Hiroshi, just wants to spend the day with her and thinks she’s being paranoid. But Keiko is adamant about visiting the house that her brother has yet to return from. Since he just wanted to spend the day going on a scenic drive with his better half anyway, Hiroshi aquiesses to her wishes, and the two of them head out to investigate her brother’s disappearance.

Vampire_Doll_3Enjoy the trip while you can, lover boy.

The Vampire Doll is actually the first film in the series known as The Bloodthirsty Trilogy, and since they’re all available to stream on Amazon Prime I figured I may as well make my way through all three of them. Despite having the same director, similar gothic-like set pieces and sharing a similar vibe with the Hammer television series, The Vampire Doll actually feels more like an Italian giallo than it does a gothic horror. As opposed to Lake of Dracula, which feels like a straight up horror, in Vampire Doll there’s a mystery to solve, a tragic backstory, some supernatural elements, and a final twist in the last act. There’s also a bit here that feels like the Edgar Allen Poe adaptations from the 1960s. It all makes for a rather interesting combination.

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Like Lake of Dracula, the film takes hints from other sources and makes it its own. The colors and styles will likely be familiar to those used to similar films of the same era, but here there’s more of an elegance to them. The creative framing and angles are still there, but here there’s a hypnotic otherworldliness present, especially any time Yuko arrives on the scene. Despite being the ‘monster’ of the film, she is also tragic and ethereal and dreamlike, which simultaneously helps build the tension and atmosphere, while also causing the viewer to question what they’re seeing.

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The characters here are sort of a mixed bag. The two sibling leads do an excellent job of feeling honest and earnest, though Kazuhiko does feel a little bit too overwrought with grief from time to time. Hiroshi, sadly, feels a bit out of place, though that may not entirely be his fault. The script can’t seem to figure out whether it wants him to be sceptical of the situation or not, so he waffles in between being a sceptic and being a believer to the point where it’s almost irritating. If he were more balanced out by the other two, and the movie were longer than 71 minutes, they might have been able to flesh him and the others out more and make a good Scooby Doo gang. But as it is, most of the emotional depth is reserved for Yuko and her mother, and both of them do an excellent job of being villainous, tragic and ghost-like, especially considering that one of them isn’t even supposed to be dead.

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Despite being a bit predictable, the movie still manages to throw in a few surprises and tries to play on your expectations. For instance, there’s the cliche scene of the car not starting, stranding Hiroshi and Keiko at the mansion. But instead of being some sort of ominous sign, it was something intentionally done by Hirioshi so that the two of them could stay longer and snoop around the estate. And the film is peppered with little touches like that. People aren’t necessarily who you think they are, and things might not have necessarily happened the way you thought. So while a lot of it is still very familiar, they do throw a couple of curveballs at you so you don’t get too complacent.

Vampire_Doll_9Damn it. I wish all my guests wouldn’t spend all their time here wandering around in the damn dark.

But I must admit, my biggest problem isn’t so much anything within the movie itself, but it’s title. The film’s title card reads: Legacy of Dracula: The Vampire Doll. Sounds good, but there is no Dracula, or even a mention of him, there is no legacy (one sad, tragic occurrence does not a legacy make) and, most annoying of all, there isn’t even a damn vampire. Oh, they certainly call Yuko a vampire, but while she may show a fascination with slashing necks, she doesn’t actually bite her victims or drink their blood. She just seems to take joy in the slashy bits of her homicides, but then just wanders off. Sorry Japan, but that just makes her a creepy psycho chick with a knife fetish, not a vampire. There are several dolls in the film, but considering all the other lies the movie suckered me in with I’m not about to give them points for only hitting a 1-out-of-4.

Vampire_Doll_10Lies! Lies, I tell you!
Vampire_Doll_11Why did you paint me this way?!

So is The Vampire Doll any good? I think so. It’s nothing phenomenal, but it’s a solid little mystery tale with a hypnotic supernatural bent. Some of the characterization suffers because of the films quick pace, but the movie looks beautiful and Japanese horror fans should appreciate it as an early stepping stone of the genre. If you like short, well put together mysteries or Japanese horror, then Vampire Doll is a good, quick pick.

The Vampire Doll (and the rest of The Bloodthirsty Trilogy) is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

It is also available on Bluray, via The Bloodthirsty Trilogy.

Vampire_Doll_rentBloodthirsty_Trilogy_blu

Michi

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